This question gets asked of us somewhat regularly when on trail. Like many things that have multiple components and even small complexities – the answer is…it depends.
Largely, it depends on how light your ground setup is. When SweetPea and I sleep on the ground, our setup has been very light. On our most recent hike of the Grand Enchantment Trail, our shelter/sleep system consisted of the following items:
- Poncho Tarp (DIY Dyneema Cuben Fiber) with stakes/guylines – 5.6oz
- Ground Sheet (Gossamer Gear Polycro) – 1.6oz
- Small Cuben Sheet – .7oz
- Small Inflatable Pad (Therma-a-Rest Xlite NeoAir) – 7oz
- 20 Degree Quilt (Katabatic Gear) – 26oz Beardoh / 21oz SweetPea
- Inflatable Pillow (Trekology)- 2.7oz (oh…the luxury)
This is on the lighter end of a thru hiker or backpacker setup, especially with the Poncho Tarp taking the place of two pieces of gear (rain gear and shelter). The kit above is also one that we would use in warmer, non-mosquito infested situations where we expect to only be using the shelter on rare occasions (meaning -> not much precipitation).
You can already see that it really is an ‘it-depends’ type of thing. Outside of the pillows, we were trying to go as light as we comfortably could, expecting that rain and mosquitoes would not be frequently encountered. Ultimately, the lightest ground setup will be lighter than the lightest hammock setup….but for this writing, we are not looking at the lightest possible, but rather a comparison of setups that a backpacker/thru-hiker (who is conscious of pack weight) would comfortably choose.
For the purposes of this article, it is probably best to compare a lightweight tent system vs. a hammock system. Why? I see so few tarp-only users out on the trails….probably less than 5% of section/thru-hikers, and even less for backpackers that are out for shorter lengths of time.
Our hammock system does not vary much depending on the trail. If we expect to be able to hang (meaning, we expect to find trees), then our 3 season hammock system is largely the same, whether we are on the Arizona Trail or the Appalachian Trail. We know that most folks who sleep in a tent probably don’t vary their setup that much either. Since this is the case, it gives a good footing to start the discussion/breakdown of gear, where we will be comparing a tent setup vs a hammock setup.
Let’s take a look at the different gear components for each setup:
- Sleeping bag or quilt
- Under quilt or pad
- Hammock (Hammock Suspension)
- Tarp (with guylines and stakes)
- Sleeping bag or quilt
- Tent (with ground cloth, poles and stakes)
It is important to admit that any particular gear choice can change the equation. That is a little hard to get around in this discussion, so we can take a look at a couple different setups to compare. I will make this generality at the onset – our hammock setups are likely lighter than at least 75% of the tent setups that we see on the trails.. This is largely because of two things:
- 75% of hikers are choosing tents that are greater than 30oz
- We use Dyneema Cuben Fiber tarps (which are very light).
The above being said, lets compare a couple things straight away.
Sleeping bag / Quilt – This item is usually the same in both scenarios. Hammock users have begun to favor quilts over the last few years as they really have no need to be completely zipped in to a bag as most are using under quilts, which means that they are already cocooned in down goodness. Both SweetPea and I have used both quilts and sleeping bags on the ground and in our hammocks. We have been using quilts exclusively (Katabatic Gear) since 2014. A quilt will use less material and lacks a zipper and typically be lighter….which could allow for a hammock setup to be lighter. But, for the sake of argument, lets just say that the quilt/sleeping bag used with either the hammock or the ground setup would be the same.
Pad and Under Quilt – If you are not familiar with hammock camping, you may be asking what an under quilt is. A simple analogy may serve well here – we have all seen the signs when driving over a bridge in places where temps get below freezing – “Bridge Freezes before Road”….It is quite similar in a hammock, there is air blowing below you, and your backside gets cold without insulation. Even if you are in a sleeping bag wrapped all around you in a hammock, your body is compressing the insulation and that insulation loses most of its effectiveness….so, we either put a pad in the hammock to lay on top of, or use an under quilt which lofts underneath our hammock. We have used under quilts whenever we hammock because of the comfort and warmth they provide. These under quilts have ranged from 12.5 ounces to 15 ounces. This is really in the range of the lightweight inflatable pads that are quite common among thru hikers these days (namely ThermaRest’s NeoAir Xlite Regular weighs in at 12oz as of this writing). So, again, not much difference in weight if you are a tent camper sleeping on a NeoAir vs a hammock camper sleeping in a 20 degree Warbonnet Yeti (12.5oz) or Hammock Gear Phoenix (15oz).
Ultimately, the tent choice (or hammock+tarp choice) will be the deciding factor for the weight of the system of choice.
Lets compare a couple setups setups. My hammock setup vs. our good friend’s (Mountain Man) ground setup. Again, we are leaving the sleeping bag/quilt out of the comparison, for reasons mentioned above.
Beardoh’s Hammock Setup:
- Hammock & Suspension (DIY) – 14oz
- Tarp with guylines and stakes (Hammock Gear DCF Hex Tarp) – 9.6oz
- Under quilt (Hammock Gear Phoenix 20degree) – 15.5oz
- Total = 39.1oz
SweetPea’s Hammock Setup:
- Hammock & Suspension (DIY) – 9oz
- Tarp with guylines and stakes (DIY) – 11.7oz
- Under quilt (Warbonnet Yeti) – 12.5oz
- Total = 33.2oz
Mountain Man’s Tent Setup:
- Pad (Therma-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Regular) – 12oz
- Tent with ground cloth, and stakes (Zpacks Hexamid using .5oz DCF) – 16oz
- Total = 28oz
Note – both SweetPea’s and my hammock setups include bug netting (SweetPea uses a bug netting sock, and I have an sewn-in net).
Comparing the above configurations, you can see that Mountain Man’s ultralight tent setup is a bit lighter than our hammock setup. The Zpacks Hexamid is certainly seen on trail, and seems to be one of the top picks for folks that want the lightest tent available. That being said, it is not the tent that is the most commonly seen.
The Most Popular Tent Setup:
- Pad (NeoAir XLite Regular) – 12oz
- Tent with ground cloth, poles and stakes (Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2) – 37oz
- Total – 49oz
Another Very Popular Tent Setup:
- Pad (Therma-a-Rest Zlite Sol) – 14oz
- Tent with ground cloth, poles and stakes (Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 1 Tent) – 33oz
- Total – 47oz
*most popular, as noted by Halfway Anywhere’s Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hiker Survey
And, to add some other hammock setups that would be fairly common among backpackers, we have these configurations:
Another Hammock Setup (1):
- Hammock & Suspension (Warbonnet Single Layer 1.6 Blackbird) – 22oz
- Tarp with guylines and stakes (Warbonnet MiniFly) – 11.75oz
- Under quilt (Warbonnet Yeti) – 12.5oz
- Total = 46.25oz
Another Hammock Setup (2):
- Hammock & Suspension (Dutchware Gear Half Zipped) – 17oz
- Tarp with guylines and stakes (Dutchware Wide Asym Tarp) – 12oz
- Under quilt (Enlightened Equipment Revolt Short) – 14.4oz
- Total = 43.4oz
It is worth noting that on some hikes we each carry 7 sections of a Therma-a-Rest Z-Rest Sol (7oz) with a 1.6oz piece of polypro groundsheet. If we are unsure that we will have the ability to hang, these two things allow us to ‘go to ground’ and still get some sleep – read more about this in our post; All Terrain Hammock Setup. When we carry it, we end up sitting on the Z-Rest at nearly all breaks, and if temps get real cold at night, we can put it under our legs in the hammock. On a trail like the AT, we did not carry theZ-Rest as there are plenty of hangs the entire trail. However, on the PCT, we did carry the Z-Rest for most of the hike. I did cut mine down to just four pieces in Oregon and carried that for cool nights in Washington. The Z-Rest is a bit overkill for just keeping one’s legs warm (we only use 3/4 length under quilts), and I have been experimenting with using only a small 1.5oz piece of Walmart blue foam inside my quilt under my legs on cool nights.
So…what is the verdict? Does a hammock setup weigh more than a tent setup?
Well, it can, but certainly doesn’t have to. In the above examples, you can see that mixing and matching different setups can get a setup that is around 2 lbs. For us, using hammocks has so many advantages, the added weight is well worth it. Read our post on Cam Honan’s site, thehikinglife.com, for more of our thoughts on using a hammock for thru hiking.